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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Witnesses and Martyrs ~


Christ is King, High Priest, Conqueror of death, Commander of the heavenly armies (often referred to as "hosts"), Chief Justice and Savior. All these roles put Him in supreme power over all that is, seen and unseen. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV).

In his vision, John uses the imagery of a throne room, the Temple, the battle theater and a court. (In the book of Matthew, Christ tells His disciples, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers' " (7:22-23). As on earth, the heavenly court will have many witnesses, human and angelic. "Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it" (Revelation 10:5-6a).

"Martyr" translates in Greek (martus) to "witness." "They overcame him [the accuser of our brothers] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony [witness]; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Revelation 12:11). Revelation declares the mission of two other witnesses: "These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want" (Revelation 11:6, NIV). Controlling the rain is a signature of Elijah while Moses was the instrument through whom God turned "the waters into blood and [struck] the earth with every kind of plague" as he did in Egypt prior to the exodus. Not coincidentally, it was these two men who conversed with Jesus about His mission during His transfiguration. The entire Law (represented by Moses) and all the prophetic proclamations (represented by Elijah) are added witnesses. God's court is stacked with those giving testimony.

Witnesses to what or to whom? Just before His ascension, Christ declared to His disciples, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8b). Since we are His, it is vital and obligatory to witness in His name, not our own. That's why there will be many who will be shocked to hear the words, "Away from me. I never knew you." And why "No one who denies the Son has the Father" (1 John 2:23a).

Both on earth and more so in the heavens, witnesses have power. An often mistranslated and frequently quoted decree of Christ is, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19b). The Greek is more accurately translated, "Whatever you bind - that is, declare to be improper and unlawful - on earth must be already bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth - declare lawful - must be what is already loosed in heaven" (Greek Amplified Version). The tense used in the Greek is perfect passive participle, indicating an announcing of or witness to what has already been declared lawful or unlawful, not permission for humans to make future determinations. "These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (Revelation 3:7). Christ's witnesses are to declare what He opened and shut, but do not have the authority to open or shut anything regarding the truth. And that makes great theological sense.

"He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:19b-20a). Ambassadors do not make decisions or alter the policies of their nations. Neither can we of the heavenly kingdom. Truth is not relative and the message of reconciliation was formulated before time began. Truth is so sacred it merits our martyrdom (witness) and cannot be changed by any human decree anyway.

There are many ways to witness to the Truth. By themselves, words are not necessarily the most effective means. Drinking it, unifying it to our spirits, loving it more than life itself, approaches authentic witness of Truth to our own selves and to others. We recall St. Francis' famous and penetrating guidance, "Always preach the Gospel, and, when necessary, use words." The "it" words I used in the sentence before last would best be replaced with "Him." Christ declared Himself to be Truth, personified and in essence. And the heavens and earth are filled with authentic, self-denying witnesses to that Truth.


John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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